Tibetan Monks Sacred Dance

Tibetan Monks Sacred Dance is a special experience, not quite a religious rite and not quite a performance show as five Tibetan monks from the Tashi Lunpo Monastery in South India exiled from Tibet give a taster of their ceremonies, prayer, chanting and sacred dance.

This fascinating experience certainly made this reviewer want to learn more about their branch of Buddhism.

The audience, a full house, are rapt as the closely shaven-headed monks in their maroon robes topped with orange wraps chant, long horns blew their low note, cymbals clashed and bells rung. It is a hugely thrilling, atonal sound, to westerners strange and exotic.

We are unsure whether to applaud, or remain in respectful silence until a female presenter arrives and encourages us to clap if we want to. Later she says to think of it as like going to a concert to hear Verdi or Fauré's Requiems, originally religious works, but performed in a secular surrounding. What we hear are only extracts. One section, the Kunrik (All Knowing) which takes five minutes or so, in reality the monks would chant, performing the 'mudras' (symbolical hand gestures) for five hours.

Luckily, the presenter explains the significance of each of the prayer sections and sacred dances that follow. Wearing an array of colourful costumes of satin-like material, multi-coloured and patterned, the monks shake beribboned sticks. The dance steps are usually slow hop steps, frequent turns with a swaying movement and hypnotic rhythm. But the most eye-catching and extraordinary feature is of course, the masks. The Sha-Ma, Deer and Buffalo Dance features full head masks, the buffalo black with bright orange eyes, the deer brown with lurid green eyes and both with horns wound round with threads. The Buffalo nods sagely whilst the Deer lowers his head coyly to one side. The most dramatic and ghoulish are the Dur Dak (Lords of the Cemetery) wearing enormous skulls with colourful fans in place of ears, grinning jaws crammed with teeth, their finger-bones and toes like claws.

We catch a glimpse of Buddhist philosophy in the Choed (Cutting) a chant to overcome self-cherishing and grasping of ignorance, the monks imagine cutting off parts of the body and feeding them to meat-eating demons and ghosts. Trumpets made from human leg bones are blown, emitting a painful cry. The demonstration of a Taksel ( Debate) – a different topic every day – appears passionate but the monks must not feel so and it ends in humour. This fascinating experience certainly made this reviewer want to learn more about their branch of Buddhism.

If you too, want to learn more, there are also workshops where people are invited to watch the monks create a Peace Mandala – a prayer pattern from coloured sand – and create for yourself prayer flag printing and butter sculpture. Learn some Tibetan language or make a dukar wheel.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

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Performances

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The Blurb

Tibet – the Land of Snows, home of Buddhist lamas whose ancient rituals have fascinated people for thousands of years. In exile since 1959, the monks from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery share their endangered culture with audiences in the West. The performance includes the music of the Himalayas – the long horns, bone trumpets, skull drums and oboes, masked dancers in brocade robes, sacred chant from the monastery and a display of the traditional art of debate, part of the monks' spiritual education, and is accompanied by introductions explaining the background to the monastery and its culture.

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